From the archives – 2016
“Money’s a bitch that never sleeps”
Remember Michael Douglas’ famous line in the movie “Wall Street?”
His character Gordon Gekko speaks – “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
Gordon Gekko was a prophet. Greed has not only resulted in the concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few and the dramatic decline of the “middle class,” it has changed our culture.
While CEOs walk off with millions or billions in their pockets the workers in their companies struggle to pay the rent or keep the car running while the company stashes billions overseas in tax havens utilizing loopholes passed by a bought and paid for Congress. And tens of millions believe that not only is this perfectly normal; it is right and good that it is so.
These are not only causes of our present predicament. They are symptoms of a culture of greed and consumption which permeates American life.
“We live in a society that constantly celebrates having more, but rarely celebrates having enough. Americans want more money, more food, more clothing — bigger servings at restaurants (think buffet), bigger boxes, bigger cups of coffee. Imagine an advertising campaign in the U.S. that encouraged Americans to be satisfied with enough, rather than to want more — right, it’s very hard to imagine that. ”
We are more interested in having more than being satisfied with enough. We are more interested in having more than finding sustainability. We are more interested in having more than in a reasonable distribution of income so that all, or mostly all can have enough.
“Symptoms of that culture are evident not only in ridiculous compensation packages of corporate CEOs or college football coaches, but also in the closets of regular people with 50 pairs of shoes or the wallets of those maintaining high amounts of credit card debt as a result of buying too many, and too expensive, Christmas presents. They can be found in things like car leases that reduce the price of driving a luxury vehicle around so that one can look rich in a car they cannot actually afford to buy. And they also lurk in the desire to purchase expensive jewelry for loved ones, because somehow the monetary value ascribed to a rock is evidence of the value of love. More cost means more love.”
The most serious problem is not the CEOs themselves, but what they represent: A culture that sanctifies beliefs that more is better, acquisition is the goal of life, and having a lot makes one happy. The heads of corporate America can sell their own staggering ideology of greed to the public because a large part of the American public already buys into the belief that greed is good and having a lot of things makes one happy.
Now do you expect those on the Forbes List of Wealthiest Individuals to lead the way toward changing this culture? Doubtful that they will do so–there is little motivation to truly work to improve society when you have control over so much of its wealth.
Our billionaires on the Forbes list have more money than they can ever spend and more than enough for their families for generations to come. Many of them (not all) are totally preoccupied with making more at the expense of virtually everything else.
When does such avarice and ambition become obscene?
Tens of millions are driving their broken down cars and can’t replace their worn out couch or see a doctor. Yet they constantly vote against their own interests, supporting candidates who seek to lower taxes, slash Medicare and Social Security, “make America great again” – what ever the hell that means.
Look at Trump supporters -solid working class people supporting a billionaire born with a golden spoon in his mouth – believing that he gives a rat’s ass about the lives of the people supporting him while he revels in the fact that he pays no taxes – and you do. That is why you will never see his tax returns – because old Toritto pays more than he does.
When will the grasping materialism of the billionaire class become the very definition of obscenity and carry the stigma of shame?
Don’t hold your breath.
Donald Trump would think, nay publicly call you stupid for holding such a view.
Yet take comfort ye ordinary folk. Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote “Remember this – it takes very little to make a happy life.”
The quotation comes from “Meditations”, the Emperor’s thoughts on how to live a good and honorable life..
Reading it, one can immediately criticize it. “Sure! Easy for an Emperor to say!”
Yet the “Meditations” were not written for an audience nor for public consumption. The Emperor probably never intended them for publication. They are his personal thoughts in twelve volumes written down on battlefields and in winter camps. He was considered the last of the “good emperors”.
“Meditations” is still a literary monument to a government of duty and service and Aurelius personifies what was best about Roman civilization. Truly, the noblest Roman of them all.
So how much does one need to be happy?
The Emperor had it right 1,800 years ago.
“Words that everyone once used are now obsolete, and so are the men whose names were once on everyone’s lips: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus, and to a lesser degree Scipio and Cato, and yes, even Augustus, Hadrian, and Antoninus are less spoken of now than they were in their own days.
For all things fade away, become the stuff of legend, and are soon buried in oblivion.
Mind you, this is true only for those who blazed once like bright stars in the firmament, for the rest, as soon as a few clods of earth cover their corpses, they are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ In the end, what would you gain from everlasting remembrance?
So what is left worth living for?
This alone: justice in thought, goodness in action, speech that cannot deceive, and a disposition glad of whatever comes, welcoming it as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same source and fountain as yourself”.
On the other hand, Steinbeck wrote: “When the majority of people are hungry they will take by force what they need; when property accumulates in the hands of too few it is taken away. How can you frighten a man whose hunger is in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t, because he knows a fear beyond any other.”
Take it from an old man; contentment in old age comes not from things. It comes from knowing you have tried your best to live a good and honorable life.